Taunton City Council votes yes on medical-marijuana hybrid facility

The City Council paved the way Tuesday night for a medical marijuana plant-growing and sales facility on Mozzone Boulevard.

The green light for the hybrid dispensary and cultivation facility came by way of an 8-1 vote granting a special permit to Commonwealth Alternative Care — which wants to convert a now-empty section of 30 Mozzone Boulevard into a one-stop operation.

"It's been a long four years," said John Greene, the non-profit group's community development director.

"I'm just ecstatic. And I just love Dan and his family. They're great," he added, referring to building owner Daniel DaRosa.

DaRosa, known locally for his B&D Construction company, said he is appreciative that the council voted to approve the special permit.

"It's good for the city and good for me so that I can rent the empty space," said DaRosa, who said he was confident that Greene would persevere.

Tuesday's vote came two years after the council voted 8-1 in favor of a special permit for a non-profit called Greeneway Wellness Foundation, with Greene listed as chief executive.

When Greene failed within a two-year period to open what would have been a dispensary his state certification expired, or lapsed.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 2015 altered its licensing process for medical-pot dispensaries so that non-profit groups could apply on a so-called rolling basis as opposed to being part of a group subject to application deadlines.

There are now nine dispensaries operating in the Bay State, a DPH spokesman said Wednesday.

Approximately half the 100,000-square-foot Mozzone Boulevard in what is known as the Route 140 Industrial Park building is now a trash recycling business, also known as a materials recycling facility (MRF), owned and operated by WeCare Organics LLC.

Greene told the council ample buffer space will assure that patients coming in to consult with his staff and buy marijuana products will not be disturbed by either noise or odors from the MRF.

The sole holdout in the vote was Councilor Deborah Carr, who long has asserted that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs.

Carr also points out that the federal government still considers marijuana to be an illegal substance, which she said could lead to legal challenges after President-elect Donald Trump assumes office.

The final hurdle for Greene will be to secure a community host agreement with the city. He said he expects to sit down within the next two weeks with Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. to negotiate terms.

Greene told the council his group is prepared to pay Taunton a total of $225,000 the first two years of operation — with $100,000 going toward hiring two police officers — and the rest being deposited into both the Mayor's Worthy Cause initiative and city coffers.

Commonwealth Alternative Care the third year will pay $75,000, to be used at the city's discretion, and $150,000 every year thereafter, Greene said.

Greene's Taunton-based lawyer, David Gay, told the council Greene intends initially to hire 35 to 40 people and eventually will increase that number to between 60 and 70 workers.

Greene, 35, said Wednesday he anticipates launching a build-out process in January inside 30A Mozzone Boulevard. Marijuana seeds, he said, will likely be planted in June.

The growing process from seed to harvesting plants will take four months, he said. Greene said he expects transactions will begin by mid-2017.

Greene is also seeking approval from Brockton officials to open a dispensary in that city, where a marijuana dispensary owned by In Good Health has been in operation for more than a year.

He told the City Council that 40 percent of his cannabis product would be trucked to the Brockton site for sale. State law, he said, allows any resident of Massachusetts with a medical-marijuana doctor's prescription to buy cannabis product at any location.

Councilor AJ Marshall asked if it would be reasonable to require Commonwealth Alternative to eventually pay the city a host fee based on consumer price index.

Greene, however, said with as many as 130 new dispensaries set to open in the next nine months, competition would cause prices to drop making it less than feasible for his group to commit to such terms.

"We're a non-profit, but we still have to make a profit," he said.

Greene said he expects to sell an ounce of high-quality marijuana flower for between $375 to $400. But he cited the example of Colorado, where an oversaturated market has led per-ounce prices to drop to as low as $175.

Greene and Gay were accompanied by Ryan Winmill, whose Washington DC-based consulting firm has been hired by the non-profit to oversee operations and training, including the formulation of a security plan for the building and staff.

Greene, who describes himself as a certified master herbalist, said he's based out of Plymouth where he runs Adaptonic, a "single herb tinctures" business specializing in various natural-herb medical products.

He said he knows firsthand how medical marijuana can provide real relief to people in pain. His own father, he said, would have benefited from it during the time that he was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

"He starved to death, which isn't unusual," Greene said. "But he wouldn't consider taking it (marijuana) because it hadn't been approved yet."

Rebecca Rutenberg